Friday, 3 June 2011

Chlamydia ~ The Silent STI

Chlamydia (pictured) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK. Make sure you know how to protect yourself and your partner, and where you can go to get tested.
This article answers some of the most common questions about chlamydia, including who is most at risk, and where (and how) you can get tested.
It's aimed mainly at under-25s because chlamydia is most common among people in this age group, and testing is routinely offered to them. Find free online testing for under-25s. However, the information is still relevant to people over 25 because chlamydia can (and does) affect people of all ages.  
Click on the questions below to go directly to the answers.
What is chlamydia?Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK. It's most common in men and women under 25 years old. Chlamydia is known as the 'silent' infection because most people who have it show no symptoms. Without a test you probably won't know that anything is wrong.
If you or your sexual partners don't get treatment, chlamydia can spread to other parts of the body and cause pain, especially in the abdomen. It may lead to infertility (inability to have children).
Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis, which is found in the semen of men and vaginal fluids of women who have the infection. Chlamydia is easily passed from one person to another through unprotected sex (sex without a condom).
What are the symptomsSeventy-five per cent of women and 50% of men with chlamydia have no symptoms.
People who develop symptoms may notice them 1-3 weeks after contact with chlamydia, or many months later, or not until the infection spreads.
Women may notice:
  • unusual vaginal discharge,
  • bleeding between periods,
  • bleeding after sex,
  • heavier periods (including women who are using hormonal contraception),
  • pain (and/or bleeding) during sex,
  • pain when passing urine, or
  • lower abdominal (pelvic) pain.
Men may notice:
  • a white/cloudy or watery discharge from the penis,
  • burning and itching in the genital area,
  • pain when passing urine, or
  • painful swelling of the testicles.
For both men and women:
  • If the infection is in the rectum, there are rarely symptoms, but it can sometimes cause discomfort and discharge.
  • Infection in the eyes can cause pain, swelling, irritation and discharge.
  • Infection in the throat isn’t common and doesn’t produce any symptoms. 
Why is it important to get tested?It's important to get tested for chlamydia because: 
  • most people with chlamydia have no symptoms, so you probably won't know if you or your partner(s) have it unless you have a test,
  • chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK,
  • untreated chlamydia can have serious long-term health effects, and may lead to infertility (being unable to have children).
If you're sexually active and under 25 years old, you should be tested for chlamydia once a year, and when you change your sexual partner.
If you're under 25 years old you can get a free and confidential chlamydia test through the NHS National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP).
Chlamydia is easy to test for, and easy to treat with antibiotics. You don't need to be examined by a doctor. Any form of unprotected sex (without a condom), including oral sex, can put you at risk of catching chlamydia.
Why am I likely to be offered a test?
If you're offered a test, by your GP for example, don't be offended. It's offered routinely to everybody under 25.
This is because chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI in the UK, and most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms. Without a test, you probably won't know that you or your partner are infected.
If you have chlamydia and it’s not treated, the infection can cause health problems. Not everyone who has chlamydia will develop health problems, but the risk increases the more times you get infected with chlamydia. If you're not routinely offered a test at a GP surgery, pharmacy or sexual health clinic but would like one, ask for it.
What does the test involve?
The test is free, simple, painless and confidential. You can do the test yourself and you don't need to be examined.
Men will be asked to give a urine sample. Women can either give a urine sample or take a swab. Women take the swab themselves from the lower vagina.
How long does it take before I get the results?After a swab or urine test is taken, it's sent away for analysis. It can take seven to 10 days for the results to come through.
Are the tests accurate?
Yes. It's very rare for the chlamydia test to be wrong. If you're concerned, discuss this with the staff when you get your results.
How is chlamydia treated?
The most common treatment for chlamydia is a course of antibiotics. The two most commonly prescribed treatments are:
  • Azithromycin (a single dose).
  • Doxycycline (a longer course).
How quickly will treatment work?
You should notice improvements quickly if you had any signs or symptoms. If the symptoms don't improve, seek advice from your GP, a sexual health clinic or pharmacy. You may have a different STI, and require further tests and different antibiotics.
If you have pelvic pain or persistent pain during sex, see your doctor or nurse. You may need further treatment or investigations for other causes of the pain.
Will I need to revisit the clinic?Not if you've taken your treatment as instructed. However, you may need to return for a repeat test if:
  • you think you've come into contact with chlamydia again,
  • you had unprotected sex with your partner before the treatment was finished,
  • you didn't complete the treatment or you didn't take it according to the instructions,
  • the signs and symptoms don’t go away, or
  • your test was negative, but you develop signs and symptoms of chlamydia.
When can I have sex again?
Don't have any sex (oral, vaginal, anal or use sex toys) with your partner(s) until seven days after you've both completed your course of treatment.
Do I need to tell my sexual partner that I have chlamydia?Yes. Chlamydia is spread through unprotected sex (not using a condom). If you have chlamydia, it's important to let your sexual partners know, because they may have it too.
If you test positive for chlamydia, it's very important that your current sexual partner and any other recent partners are also tested and treated. The staff at the clinic or your GP will discuss with you which of your sexual partners may need to be tested.
You may be given a ‘contact slip’ to send or give to your partner(s). Alternatively, the clinic can do this for you (with your permission). The slip explains that they may have been exposed to an STI, and suggests that they go for a check-up.
It may or may not say what the infection is. The slip won't have your name on it, so your confidentiality is protected. This is called partner notification. You're strongly advised to tell your partner(s), but it's not compulsory.
How do I protect myself?
The NHS National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) says that to reduce your chances of getting chlamydia you should take the following steps:
  • Use condoms every time you have sex. This can reduce your risk of getting or passing on chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
  • If you have oral sex, cover the penis with a condom or the female genitals with a dam, which is a latex or polyurethane (soft plastic) square.
  • If you're not sure how to use condoms correctly, there are normally instructions in the packet. Find out how to use condoms correctly
  • Each time you have a new sexual partner, both of you should have a chlamydia test.
  • Have a chlamydia test every year while you're under 25.
If you have chlamydia, remember to:
  • take all the tablets that you're given.
  • tell your partner(s) and advise them to be tested and treated.
How do I get tested if I'm under 25?
If you're sexually active and under 25 years old, you'll be offered a test for chlamydia every year, or if you change your partner.
Many places offer chlamydia testing as part of the NHS National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP), including GP surgeries and pharmacies.
You can find your nearest NCSP testing venue at the NCSP website by entering your postcode.
If you're over 25 
Rates of infection are lower in people who are aged 25 or above. However, if you're over 25 and are concerned about chlamydia, see your GP, the practice nurse, or visit your nearest sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. You can find these under 'sexual health' in the phone book, or use the fpa website to find a clinic near you
Outside of the NHS National Chlamydia Screening Programme, the test may be carried out in different ways, depending on where it's done.
Find out about visiting an STI clinic.
In future, always use condoms to help protect yourself and other people against chlamydia. Always choose condoms that carry the European CE mark, a recognised safety standard. Don’t use novelty condoms unless they carry the European CE mark.

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